What Hate Feels Like

I’m not talking about chicken or merit badges today, because I KNOW, RIGHT? Beating a dead horse, right?

Except that there are some people who cannot just stop reading about it, because they’re sort of living it.

I kept trying to put my stance into words last week, and I probably failed miserably each time, because how do you articulate things that you just feel are right? Especially when you want to do so without hurting anyone with differing opinions, even if they’re so much louder than you? I don’t know these answers, and so I tried to keep quiet last week. I tried to smile about the chicken and whatnot, because I couldn’t adequately put into words why I felt the way I did.

And then this happened.


Although I very rarely wear polish on my hands, my toes are always painted in the summer. I do them myself, because I have this very unnerving reaction to pedicures: I laugh uncontrollably. I don’t know why, but I do. I don’t think I like people messing with my feet seems to be the root of it, but mostly it’s that I feel downright guilty that someone has to touch my feet, and then it tickles, and the awkward laughter, it does not stop.

Anyway, so I paint my own toes and I have quite the (obsessive) collection of polishes as a result.

I don’t know why, but as we’ve neared the wedding, Tony has asked me many times to paint his nails. I’ve resisted for a long time, but finally, last week, I gave in. He wanted to pick the color and – God help me – I steered him toward a more masculine color. He settled on a dark green, although that was not his first choice.

Pink was.

So we sat in my bedroom floor, he and I, sprawled out with limbs everywhere. I painted his tiny toenails and sat back. “No, Momma, my hands too!” he begged. “I want color EVERYWHERE!”

I consented.

He danced around the house, so pleased with his color. He sat back every five minutes or so, admiring his new nails. He LOVED them. “I can’t wait to show everyone!” he beamed.

I was late getting home the next night because of work stuff, and when I walked in, Bryan threw me the be gentle with him glare.

“Momma,” he said. “I have to take my color off.”

Why, baby?

“Everyone laughed at me. Said I looked like a girl. But I like it, Momma! But they laughed.”

It’s worth noting that this was Wednesday. The Day of Chicken.

I may have been a little sensitive.

So we sat, again, in my bedroom floor. Limbs sprawled out. And we talked about how harsh words can be. We talked about how everyone is different, and we all like different things, and that’s okay. We talked about how the color on your nails means nothing more than your preference for that color on that particular day. I did all of this with a solid, comforting voice.

I started to dab his toes with the polish remover and he said, “No, Momma. Don’t. I really like my color. And I can wear shoes, right Momma? So no one will know? I can hide it so only I know, and that would be okay, right Momma?”

Aaaaaand then I lost it.

No one should have to hide who they are. Or what they love. Or who they love.

They should not have their personas beaten out of them.

We should not have to pray that away, any more than we pray away someone being left-handed.

I don’t care if you judge me for painting my son’s nails. I don’t care at all. And quite frankly, if you do judge me, it says worlds more about YOU than it does about me. Do his nails affect you in any way? Do they impact your life? Are your morals shaken by his painted nails?

I emailed this story to Kim on Thursday, to let her know that I thought about her through all of this. We both agreed that we have to believe – we have to believe, for our own sanity’s sake – that people don’t understand what their actions are doing. That they don’t understand the hate the other side sees.

I learned, through my son’s eyes, what hate feels like.

And my God, I will speak louder to keep that as far from my world as possible.

Update: last night, Tony asked me to paint his nails again. I let him choose the color. He chose a pastel pink, and wanted sparkles on top of it. I painted his fingernails and his toenails. He loves them – says they look like little birthday cakes. He says he knows they may laugh at him, but his bucket will stay full.

Teach your children well.

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25 Responses to What Hate Feels Like

  1. -R- August 8, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    This is so sad and so sweet.

    Ren loves having his toenails painted. He usually wants blue, but his favorite color is blue, so… Anyway, his daycare teacher said lots of the boys have painted toenails. =)
    -R- wants you to read ..The Hangover: The 33 Year Old Edition

  2. Hillary August 8, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    I believe that most people really don’t understand what they’re doing. Maybe that makes me Pollyanna-ish — and certainly, it doesn’t make their actions OK — but I do think most people say and do these things out of ignorance.

    I just want to hug Tony.
    Hillary wants you to read ..What’s mine is mine

  3. Raven August 8, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    We went through this when Sprog was wee but it was his own father that was the one that took it away from him and prevented him from expressing himself. Now, of course, he isn’t speaking to him, has long hair and his ever present knit cap.

    I always supported his right to have painted toe-nails and his right to his knit cap…

    I love that you did this for Tony and you talked him through kids being mean. Good for you mama!
    Raven wants you to read ..good times at the DMV

  4. Russell August 8, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    I’m so very proud to know you. Thank you for this.

  5. Aysha Machado August 8, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    I love, love, love this. You are an excellent mother. First of all I am a girl born and raised in California. Boys and men gay or heterosexual paint their nails. It’s very trendy. Has been for years. Most importantly it makes him happy. That’s what it is all about. If it wasn’t his nails kids would pick on something else. Unfortunately they always do. Good for your son and good for you. Enjoy the time you spend together painting them. Pretty soon he will be able to do it himself. Your a wonderful mother! I love the fact that your son is coming into his own!

  6. The BookMamma August 8, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    Love this, love you, love T.
    The BookMamma wants you to read ..Babywearing 101

  7. Montysano August 8, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Absolutely wonderful.

  8. LizzieV August 8, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    Funny, but I finally (after a year) painted my toes today before reading this. And I had to stop in the middle of reading to paint my daughter’s toes.

    No, MLB’s toes are not painted. I offered (after he stepped on mine & almost smudged them,) but at 8 years old, he’s beyond that.

    But boy, do I have memories of Ms. Emma at MMO putting make up & nail polish on all the kids on the last day. I think he went with pink & glitter, too!
    LizzieV wants you to read ..A Bowl Full of Yum

  9. Wendy August 8, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    My boy currently has red toenails. He thinks they make him look “fancy”. I dare anyone to tell him otherwise.

    I used to be very, very conservative and (I see it now) homophobic. I thought being gay was a sin, was morally wrong, was gross, etc. But if you asked me, I would have been adament that I didn’t “hate” anyone. I was well and truly blind to my prejudice. I was a nice Christian girl, not a bigot.

    It is painful for me to think now of the things I said and thought back then and it is painful to me to read the things that my more conservative friends and family say now but I hold on to hope that they will see someday. It breaks my heart that they don’t see yet.

    I think about the MLK quote about the arc of moral universe being long but bending to justice and that helps. I think about the fact that when my husband was born it was still illegal in many states for a mixed race couple like us to marry but now it is, by and large, not an issue. I believe that when my kiddos are grown that they’ll be able to marry whomever they wish.

    I’m rambling now, but good on you and good on Tony for knowing the truth: love is love and toenails look better if they are fancy.
    Wendy wants you to read ..The End and The Start

  10. Mint August 8, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    Love that kid and his courage to be himself. Hope it never changes & love that you and Bryan have the courage to LET him be himself. It’s what too many parents fail at.

    Back before Grayson started pre-k this summer, he wanted to get a new backpack. At target he FELL IN LOVE with a bright pink one…probably with Ponies or something on it. Ashley and I shared a knowing glance at each other understanding the likely taunting he’d get at school if he were to take it. Luckily (i guess) just a few seconds later, he found a Lightning McQueen one that he chose to buy. In that moment though, I remember thinking how much easier it would be to tell him the pink one was only for girls to save him some possible embarrassment, but knowing that I could never do it.

    Keep on fighting the good fight Sarah..you and Bryan are doing a hell of a job with your kids….

    I leave you with this: Grayson’s 4th of July shoe selection: http://instagram.com/p/MrmowRDh2o/

  11. Nanette August 8, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    You are good peeps, Sarah, and you’re raising wonderful little peeps. So unfortunate that we live in a world with intolerant, hateful people.
    Nanette wants you to read ..Bump Watch 2012, 14 Weeks

  12. Kate August 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    This made me teary. It was such a disheartening week, so I can only imagine how hurt you must have felt for your boy, especially on that day. I hope you were equally proud of how strong and independent the choice of sparkly birthday cakes was. 🙂

    What a lucky little guy Tony is to have a momma like you.
    Kate wants you to read ..We talk about anti-vax parents, but what about my anti-vax DOCTOR?

  13. Jesabes August 8, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    I wish I could come visit Tony and tell him how awesome I think the pink nails are.
    Jesabes wants you to read ..First Books

  14. kakaty August 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    This is both sweet and heartbreaking. The fact that he wants to express himself no matter what is proof that he comes from loving, caring, amazing parents.
    kakaty wants you to read ..Czesc OHMommy

  15. Rhonda August 8, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    You put my feelings into words so perfectly. My little boy wanted his nails painted when he was your son’s age. I went along with it, but his dad was not happy about that, so he eventually quit asking. How can our kids learn to stand up against the BIG stuff (like hate) when things like toenail polish make them feel like outcasts? Your son has a good mom.

  16. BrownBabys August 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    The only time I had hate in my heart was when the school system insisted on teaching you that African-Americans are different. Until then, you believed all were equal (just different colors in a crayon box).

    I hated that and I still do.

  17. Katie August 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    As a teacher of young children, I hope that his teachers intervened when he was teased and talked the other children about how hurtful they were being to Tony. They may be too young to know that what they are saying is really that hurtful. But the adults with whom they spend the majority of their day with need to teach them more than their ABCs. They need to help them learn to acceptance of everyone, to speak kindly to others.
    I really hope Tony had some support through out the day. If not, you bring that child to me. I don’t care if we are a half day program. We will somehow make it work.
    You are an amazing person, mom, and are raising exceptional children.

  18. Lee Ropes August 8, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    Dear Sarah,

    What a powerful post! You summed up every feeling I’ve had since the chicken thing. I’ve laid awake at night trying to piece together my thoughts and my feelings. After all, you and I are writers – we should be able to put it on paper. And I thank you, and your son, for bringing the real meaning into words.

  19. Elizabeth August 8, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    I am so glad you wrote about this. Eli has painted toe nails and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Just the hate out there towards OUR babies who just are so innocent for whatever reason, it gets to me. Thank you for writing this and for being so freaking awesome.
    Elizabeth wants you to read ..Books I Read In July

  20. One of the Sarahs August 9, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    Good for you, Sarah. Being as individual on the outside as you are on the inside can be difficult in our society, but I’m so glad that you and Bryan are giving Tony the love and support he needs to stand up and be himself. Knowing there are families like yours out there gives me hope. Big (slightly awkward) hugs to all of you!
    One of the Sarahs wants you to read ..New Indulgences

  21. Chrisor August 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    No matter the state of the world, we don’t have to worry a bit about Tony because he has YOU for a mother! Society can be cruel but you know how people should treat each other and you’re teaching your son to accept others as individuals. You’re also teaching him to be an individual and follow his heart. All of that is so important. It never hurts to remind all of us that hate doesn’t belong here or anywhere.
    Chrisor wants you to read ..Turning 50: 50 Shades of Awesome

  22. Michelle August 10, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    I’m so sorry for you and Tony that this had to happen. I think so much attention is paid to little girls not being boxed in to being princesses and wearing pink and glitter, etc. and not enough is paid to little boys who might want to do things that are not stereotypical of boys (or maybe that’s my impression because I have two girls and I’m hyper aware.)

    You are so right. No one should hide who they are.

    So happy that you and Tony aren’t.
    Michelle wants you to read ..What’s mine is mine

  23. Courtney August 11, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    I just want to hug him. He has quite a spirit in him at his young age. What a sweet boy. I hope he never has to hide anything.

  24. Ginger August 14, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Tony is lucky to have you for his mom, because he will always know growing up that 1)you love him no matter what and 2)you have his back. That’s a lucky thing for a kid to have.
    Ginger wants you to read ..Well, First I Saved Him From a Fire


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